CDC Drops Test Requirement for Air Travelers. Should You Still Get Tested?

passengers walk through George Bush Intercontinental Airport

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Key Takeaways

  • The CDC said widespread vaccine uptake, availability of COVID-19 treatment, and high rates of population immunity made it possible for withdrawing the testing rule for air travelers.
  • Experts don’t expect the decision to cause an increase in infection rates this summer.
  • Testing before boarding the plane is still recommended, and those who test positive should delay their travel plan.

The United States, effective Sunday, ended the requirement for all air travelers to show a negative COVID-19 test result before flying to the country. The travel industry had been lobbying to end the testing rule, saying that it discouraged many people from traveling.

Health experts say this decision might not affect infection rates during the summer, but travelers are still recommended to get tested before their flight and to avoid travel if they test positive.

The testing requirement was meant to minimize virus transmission earlier in the pandemic, but it's not currently serving as a useful way of controlling the spread within the U.S., said Pia MacDonald, PhD, MPH, infectious disease epidemiologist at RTI International.

“At this point in the pandemic, the virus is coming in epidemic waves and moving freely around the world as people travel,” MacDonald told Verywell. “Slowing the spread of the disease among countries is a very costly and complicated endeavor, which has not worked very well so far. At this time, each country has its own strategy around travelers entering and leaving the country.”

In a press release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that the pandemic has "shifted to a new phase," because of high vaccination rates and ample treatment supply.

Although a majority of the U.S. population has been vaccinated against COVID-19 and many have developed immunity, people can get reinfected as new variants emerge. Therefore, getting vaccinated and boosted is still critical in reducing the risk of severe disease and death, MacDonald said.

The fact that there are no restrictions on testing before air travel in some other nations may also be a factor, which made the U.S. an outlier, said Gigi Gronvall, PhD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and associate professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Should You Still Get Tested?

Despite dropping the testing rule, the CDC still recommends getting tested within three days of departure. You should delay your travel plan if you do test positive before your flight, Gronvall said.

“It is not a good idea to travel if you are potentially infectious, but I know that without the requirements people will indeed do so,” she said. “I hope that they are vigilant and wear a good mask to protect those around them. Not everyone has been able to get vaccinated yet—thinking of those under 5.”

Gronvall added that the rule change in itself is unlikely to cause a summer surge. “Given that people were able to be infected before testing positive, it was never going to be the one thing that stopped COVID from entering the country," she said.

Perry N. Halkitis, PhD, MS, MPH, dean and professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, expects that COVID-19 infections will plateau over the course of the next few months, but there may be large increases in the fall and winter when respiratory illnesses are more common.

“The best chance we have to actually containing this is for all of us to get a revaccination when it is recommended—probably prior to the respiratory infection season—alongside the flu vaccine, so that we can remain healthy and not spread disease to others," Halkitis told Verywell.

Should the state of the pandemic change, the CDC will reassess the need for a testing requirement.

“No one should travel ever if they have any kind of illness, whether it be the flu or the common cold or COVID-19,” Halkitis said. “It is our obligation as individuals, as members of society, to ensure the public’s health, and ensuring the public’s health means that we have the responsibility not to transmit diseases to other people."

What This Means For You

If you are about to board a flight to the United States, you no longer need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from infection beforehand. However, the CDC still recommends getting tested within three days before your departure, and avoiding travel if you are sick.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rescission: Requirement for negative pre-departure COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 for all airline or other aircraft passengers arriving into the United States from any foreign country.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Media statement: CDC rescinds order requiring negative pre-departure COVID-19 test prior to flight to the US.

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.